Preaching

Is Pastor Appreciation Month a LifeWay Conspiracy or an Opportunity to Obey Scripture?

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It’s Pastor Appreciation Month. If Hallmark created some of the other holidays, perhaps LifeWay created this one! However, 1 Timothy 5:17 does instruct us to “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to all the pastors who I have sat under in my life as a church member. Since I have served as a pastor for the last 17+ years, I have only had four such pastors during my lifetime.

I am grateful for each of them and the particular ways that God used them in my life to shape me.

  1. Garry Weaver: This was my first pastor and the one who has had the most impact on me personally. He modeled selfless, sacrificial to his flocks and exemplified personal holiness and a committed prayer life.
  2. Hubert Troutman: Pastor Troutman (passed away a little over a year ago) was a lifelong family friend. He modeled kindness to all and love for the Lord and His people. He and his wife, Betty, had the spiritual gift of hospitality.
  3. Ray Bearden: Pastor Bearden modeled expository preaching through books of the Bible. His faithfulness to preach the Bible was a great example to me. He also provided an excellent model of professionalism and leadership over various ministries. He also provided excellent counsel and mentorship as I began my preaching ministry under his care (22 years ago this December!).
  4. David Gamble: Pastor Gamble became a very close friend as I served with him as an associate minister at Grace Baptist Church in Newport, Tn. David and his wife, Renee, modeled professionalism, kindness, thoughtfulness, and classiness. I learned so much from watching them interact with people with kindness and concern. Their thoughtfulness and thankfulness have made me better at those graces than I otherwise would have been.

There are many others who I have known as friends or from whom I have learned from afar. I’m thankful to God for each of these men and the impact they have had and continue to have in my life.

Bible Software for the Pastor On the Go

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I love books. I have thousands of them that surround me both at my home and church study. In the past couple of years, however, I have discovered the advantage of having a digital library for life on the go. Between my ministry at Farmdale Baptist Church and my ministry at the Kentucky State Capitol, along with a few other opportunities here and there, I usually preach or teach the Bible six to eight times a week. This requires me not only to stay on the go, but also to be able to study on the go. This is where Logos Bible Software has become a huge blessing to me over the past year or so.

Logos allows me to have access to a complete biblical and theological library anywhere and anytime. This is extremely helpful as I am sometimes studying at home, other times at church, and even more often at the local coffee shop. Before I started using Logos I would have to carry a box of commentaries with me everywhere I went (I know you can photocopy specific pages and take with you in a folder, but I have never been that far ahead in preparation and never had a secretary to do that kind of task.). Even on family vacations or visiting family on holiday, I would carry a large box of books with me because for the pastor there is always a Sunday approaching soon. Now, while I still take some books, most of my reference works are readily available on my tablet or laptop. I often have as many as ten different commentaries on a passage open on my Logos program on my laptop. Those commentaries stay open throughout a sermon series to exactly where I am in the book of the Bible (you can configure the settings to sync the books to the same passage and to open where you close it each time). This is both a time and space saver. I no longer have to several books open on my desk at the same time (although I still do it sometimes for fun and old times sake!).

Another feature that I love about Logos is the app for my Android tablet (the same is available for iPads). It is a free app that provides access to your entire digital library. In other words, any book that you own for your desktop software is available on the app (I should mention this app also works on smartphones.). What I love most about the app is that it allows you to read the books in your Logos library in Kindle-like fashion. One of the difficulties with owning virtually any of the Logos packages, is that you have more books than you can even remember that you have. Also, having books that are only accessible on your computer are not very reader-friendly. Using the app enables you to read one book at a time, whether at home at night waiting to fall asleep or on the beach. This gives you a virtually inexhaustible supply of reading and study material while on the go.

Disclaimer: Logos provided me a free copy of one of their base packages for the promise of a review. I was not required to give a positive review. Because of the usefulness of the software as noted above, I have subsequently purchased multiple add-ons to the original base package given to me. 

 

A Picture of a True Minister (from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress)

In Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan describes a scene in which Christian enters the house of one called “Interpreter” (who represents the Holy Spirit). In this house he is shown many “profitable” things. The first such is a picture which is described as follows:

Christian saw the picture a very grave person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it: It had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon its lips, the world was behind its back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head.

After Christian asked what the picture meant, Interpreter explained:

The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand: he can beget children (1 Cor. 4:15), travail in birth with children (Gal. 4:19), and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas thou seest him with his eyes lift up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, and the law of truth writ on his lips: it is to show thee, that his work is to know, and unfold dark things to sinners; even as also thou seest him stand as if he pleaded with men. And whereas thou seest the world as cast behind him, and that a crown hangs over his head; that is to show thee, that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he hath to his Master’s service, he is sure in the world that comes next, to have glory for his reward. Now, said the Interpreter, I have showed thee this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going hath authorized to be thy guide in all difficult places thou mayest meet with in the way: wherefore take good heed to what I have showed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou hast seen, lest in thy journey thou meet with some that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death.

The footnote in this edition adds:

This is a true picture of a gospel minister, one whom the Lord the Spirit has called and qualified for preaching the everlasting gospel. He is one who despises the world – is dead to its pleasures and joys; his chief aim is to exalt and glorify the Lord Jesus, his atoning blood, justifying righteousness, and finished salvation; and his greatest glory is to bring sinners to Christ, to point him out as the one way to them and to edify and build up saints in him. But there are many who profess to do this, but turn poor sinners out of the way, and point them to a righteousness of their own for justification in whole or in part. Of these the Spirit teaches us to beware; the former, he leads and directs souls to love and esteem highly for their labours and faith in the Lord, and zeal for his honour and glory, and for the salvation of souls. Take heed what you hear. – Mark iv.24.

What a beautiful and convicting picture of a true gospel minister! May God grant multitudes of such, while delivering us from those who would lead astray.

Andrew Fuller on Spiritual Preaching as Gospel Preaching

Near the end of his life, Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) ruminated on spiritual preaching in a letter dated February 21, 1813, to his Scottish friend Christopher Anderson.

I have been thinking of late [1813] of the force of the petition, “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” As spiritual things are spiritually discerned, if the Lord leave us to ourselves, we shall lose sight of the gospel, and somehow get beside it. I have heard many ingenious sermons, and perhaps preached some, in which the gospel was overlooked; and if a sinner heard it, and never heard the way of salvation before, he might have died, and gone to the bar of God, for any thing he could have heard then, without having been told his danger, or the way of salvation. Take not thy Holy Spirit from us! It is for want of spirituality of mind, surely, that there is so much orthodox, and at the same so little evangelical preaching.

Joseph Belcher, ed., The Last Remains of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, [1856]), 361. For the full text of the letter, see Hugh Anderson, The Life and Letters of Christopher Anderson (Edinburgh: William P. Kennedy, 1854), 214-215.

“What is the Unpardonable Sin?” Exposition of Matthew 12:22-32

Audio of this sermon is available here.

There has been a lot of speculation about the nature of the unpardonable sin. Some have suggested that divorce, murder or suicide. But none of those sins are identified as unforgivable in the Bible. Others fear that they have committed the unpardonable sin because of an unguarded thought or word against the God the Father, Son or Holy Spirit. Some think that an irreverent joke might be the unpardonable sin. But the idea of the unpardonable sin comes directly from the lips of Jesus. In our text this morning, Jesus says that every kind of sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, except for one. What does He say that it is? That’s what we want to consider in this passage.

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:22-32

I. The Occasion of the Miracle, vv. 22-23.

The occasion that produced the statement by Jesus about the unpardonable sin is this. Jesus has just healed a man who was oppressed by a demon. Jesus had healed the man by exorcizing the demons. This is exactly the kind of action that indicated that Jesus was the Messianic King, the descendent of David, for which the Jews had been waiting. Isaiah 35:5-6 prophesied the coming of the kingdom of God: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Interestingly, when the crowd sees this miracle their minds must have immediately went to these Old Testament prophecies that link the coming of the Messiah with His Davidic kingdom to miraculous works such as they have just seen. No wonder, then, they ask the question “Can this be the Son of David?”

II. The Accusation by the Pharisees, v. 24.

It is unclear whether the crowd asks this question out of faith or doubt? There seems to be a hint of skepticism in the Greek at this point, like “He can’t be the Son of David, can he?” But the Pharisees did not even want the issue raised. They immediately reject this possibility by asserting that the miraculous deeds done by Jesus can only be attributed to Satan himself. Notice what they are doing. They are taking the miracles which Jesus has performed by the power of the Spirit which identify Him as the messianic king, the Son of David and are rejecting that evidence and saying that these miracles were performed by the power of Satan.

III. The Reaction by Jesus, vv. 25-32.

Jesus responds. He knows their thoughts, which was itself evidence of his divine power. He responds by pointing out two problems with their accusation:

  • First, he points out the illogical nature of their accusation, vv. 25-26. 
  • Second, he points out the inconsistency of their accusation, v. 27.

Then, in verses 28-29, Jesus argues that, contrary to the Pharisees, the inclination of the crowd to identify Jesus as the promised Davidic king was dead on. Jesus asserts that since He is performing this miracles, since He is casting out demons, this is evidence that the kingdom of God has come among them because the king was standing in their midst!

So, what is the sin that Jesus is discussing here that is unforgivable? It is a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. John Walvoord has defined this sin as “attributing to Satan what is accomplished by the power of God.” D. A. Carson has defined the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as “the willful assigning of what is unambiguously the Spirit’s work in the ministry of Jesus (12:28) to the devil (12:24).” In other words, Jesus is referring to the sins of the Pharisees in this text who have rejected the evidence provided by the Holy Spirit through the miracles performed by Jesus that He is indeed the Messianic King. Their rejection is unforgivable at this point, because they have sufficient evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. They know the Old Testament prophecies and they have seen the miracles in person. Yet, they reject Jesus as their Messiah. Jesus essentially says in verse 30 that you’re either with me or against me. They have aligned themselves against Jesus by their rejection and therefore there is no forgiveness available for them.

Now, for the question: Can this sin be committed today?

If we take this question in a very strict sense, we would say no. This sin could only have been committed by people who were alive during Jesus’ earthly ministry who knew the Scriptures like the Pharisees and saw the miraculous signs performed by Jesus.

But, I believe that this sin can still be committed today. Because it is still possible to reject the evidence provided by the Holy Spirit in Scripture and through His internal conviction that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David, the Savior, the Son of God.

When an individual is brought to a certain point by the Holy Spirit where they are convinced that Jesus is indeed the only Savior, and they still reject Him at that point, then there is no other hope available for them and their sin is unpardonable.

I think this is what the author of Hebrews is talking about in Hebrews 6:4-6, 9. These people have been exposed to the working of the Holy Spirit, even having been enlightened, but not yet converted. If people brought to that point do not trust Christ, salvation is impossible for them.

Conclusion:

Don’t be that person! How can you guarantee that you’ve not committed the unpardonable sin? Don’t reject Christ. Respond positively to each step of revelation given to you by the Spirit. Don’t reject His testimony in the pages of Scripture and His working in your heart!

A Brief Thought on Using Church History in Preaching

On Saturday, one of the students in the History of the Baptist course which I am teaching at SBTS this semester asked for examples of using church history in preaching. I answered in some way, but I do not remember what I said. Yesterday, at the church where I pastor, the guest speaker was unable to make it to our church service due to inclement weather. Naturally I thought of the events surrounding Spurgeon’s conversion and the text God used to bring him to faith, so I pulled an old sermon which I had preached before from my files and preached it. As I thought about it this morning, I realized that the sermon is an example (but not a typical one) of using church history in preaching a sermon. Here’s a link to my notes which I posted on my blog this morning. An audio version has also been posted.

Again this sermon is not typical, but I think something like this can be done occasionally on special occasions. Thus, I believe it serves as an illustration of using church history in preaching. Of course, I believe that this can be done on a much smaller scale on a more regular basis (perhaps as a short illustration or introduction to a sermon). If you do this, you will not only be providing your congregation with an illustration of the text you’re preaching, but also providing a much-needed introduction to many of the great examples of faithfulness to God found in church history.